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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

For how many decades have we been able to watch what is going on in the world from the most comfortable chair in our own living room? And today the benefits which electronic media have brought to our lives are too many to enumerate. With a telephone line and a keyboard we can now reach anywhere in the world, visit museums and galleries at will, and read the morning newspapers without walking to the local shop in the morning. We can do banking transactions without going to the bank, shop without going to the shops, chat to our friends without meeting in a café, and even conduct love affairs without a lover in sight, via the Internet. All the ‘trouble’ of dealing with shop keepers, bank clerks, and even living with another person may become a thing of the past, and similarly in future there may be no need for newspapers or books.

But no, that can never be, because just as many people cannot experience love without touching, so they will still want to hold a newspaper or a book in their hand.

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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

After finding the book they want on the shelves, after running their fingers over the cover, they will still want to buy it, still keep it at their bedside until they have finished reading it, and still put it away on a shelf afterwards. And those books which someone keeps will in time find new buyers and new sellers, just as they do today. The story of Librairie de Péra, which held its 29th book auction in November is also the story of books which people kept and loved, and the story of antiquarian and rare books in Turkey.

The history of Turkey’s antiquarian book dealers goes back centuries. When French envoy Antoine Galland visited Turkey in 1672-1673, he wrote at length in his diary about the antiquarian booksellers in the great covered bazaar of Istanbul. That was a time when bookselling was still a profession with its own trade guild closed to outsiders. After one of the fires which frequently swept through the city, the booksellers moved out of this bazaar into a small one of their own, today’s Beyazit Sahaflar Çarsisi.

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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

Meanwhile, the city’s Christian, Jewish and Levantine communities had their own booksellers on the street of Yüksekkaldirim north of the Golden Horn. This famous steep street linking Karaköy on the shore to Istiklâl Caddesi at the top of the hill was once filled with bookshops, and until the early years of the 20th century books in every European language were to be found here.

Librairie de Péra is the only surviving representative of the Yüksekkaldirim booksellers today. It stands diagonally opposite the Galata Mevlevihane dervish lodge (today the Museum of Divan Literature). The bookshop’s last owner, Talya Nomidis, inherited the shop from her father Miltiadis Nomidis, a distinguished Byzantine archaeologist. Its present owner is Ugur Güracar, who for years has passed his days in the shop not only selling books but discussing books with the many who drop by.

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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

He was still a university student when he took over the shop and its stock of three thousand books in 1984, on the condition that he kept it as a bookshop. Today Librairie de Péra has a stock of forty thousand books, not only in modern and Ottoman Turkish, but also books about Turkey in Arabic, Persian, English, German, French, Italian, Greek, Armenian, Serbian and many other languages. He has six thousand local and two thousand foreign customers. Life as an antiquarian bookshop owner today involves a host of concepts, like cataloguing and library programmes, network, blanket orders, international library databases, intranet, internet, web sites, subscriptions, and standing orders.

The antiquarian booksellers’ trade suffered a bad slump with the transformations of the 1950s, when the large old houses with room for their own libraries were pulled down to make way for blocks of flats, and the books went out with the old furniture, pouring onto the market in huge quantities.

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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

Just as the furniture that at one time was sold by the kilo now sells for astronomical sums at auction, so old books are now valued once again. Although Ugur Güracar studied politics and electronic engineering at university, he has been an antiquarian book dealer for the past fifteen years, and is the proprietor of Turkey’s oldest bookshop. He also organised the first public book auction held in Turkey since Ottoman times.

While some of his customers are still passers-by and book lovers who stay to talk about books over tea and coffee, the majority are researchers into Turkey and the Middle East, institutions, universities and libraries in Turkey and all over the world. Librairie de Péra began organising auctions in 1985. Güracar explains that one of his objectives was to restore the reputation of antiquarian book sellers as a respected profession at a time when they were dismissed as merely a kind of junk dealer. So far these auctions have found new owners for five thousand books.

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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

The latest auction held as usual at the Pera Palas Hotel offered for sale not only antiquarian and rare books, but manuscripts, Ottoman bindings, maps, illustrations, prints, signed books and documents, ranging in value from 10 million to 10 billion Turkish liras ($20-$20,000). All these books and documents are rare, but for various different reasons. What are these reasons? Güracar explains. ‘You look at the binding, for instance, and see that it is made of leather tanned so many years ago by craftsman X, from the hide of goats on mountain Z!
The typeface is one no longer used by any printer anywhere in the world, the marbling is of a kind that no one is capable of duplicating today, or it is printed on paper from another era. Of course you have to take into account the wear and tear of time. Both materials and the craftsmen who made them belong to a long gone past. Just as it is impossible to commission an ancient Greek statue today, so you cannot reproduce such a book. That is what an antiquarian book is!’

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A WORLD BOOKS IN BEYOGLU
2000 / FEBRUARY

And what does Güracar think about selling antiquarian books over the Internet? ‘The Internet is just a vehicle for people to find the books they are looking for. But it is a very powerful vehicle. People today have not got the time to go shopping for their groceries, never mind search through hundreds of books in antiquarian bookshops. Instead, wherever there is a computer and a telephone line available, you have only to enter such information as the author, title, publication date, publisher, or subject to quickly find the books in which you are interested from among thousands. This is an indispensable tool for the person who knows what they are looking for. For example, we have a web site which currently offers twenty-five thousand old and rare book titles. Very soon all our activities, even the auctions, will take place over the Internet, and I will not even have to leave my tiny shop!’


* Emel Armutçu is a journalist.

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